In the past, I’ve singled out my ten favorite reads of the year, either in alphabetical order by author, or in the order I finished reading them. This year, I’m actually ranking them by preference.
10 – David Sedaris, Theft By Finding: Diaries 1977-2002
You’d expect selections from a personal essayist’s diaries to be worth reading and Sedaris doesn’t disappoint—particularly from the mid-80s on, as he attends the Art Institute of Chicago and develops his true voice as an observer of exceptionally absurd conversations, many of them overheard at his local IHOP.
9 – Samantha Irby, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life
I’ve rarely laughed so ravenously as I have at Irby’s oft-raunchy but bracingly real writing, whether she’s cataloging a love/hate relationship with a rescue-cat named Helen Keller, or constructing a play-by-play account of a suburban Chicago wedding.
8 – Jason Zinoman, Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night
If it feels a little too concise for a biography of so iconic a humorist of his time, note that Zinoman’s less interested in the enigma that is Letterman’s personality and more on the man’s contributions to television and comedy and how he completely reshaped and forever altered both.
7 – George Saunders, Lincoln In The Bardo
A searing, ambitious novel with so many intricate moving parts, I’m sure I missed a few along the way. Still, what matters most is the shimmering whole, which utilizes the tragic death of Abraham Lincoln’s young son as stage for a phantasmagoric chorus teetering between our world and the beyond. Looking forward to eventually hearing the audiobook of this.
6 – Francine Prose, Mister Monkey
Prose’s best novel in over a decade transforms an unlikely premise—a kiddie musical, performed off-off-off-Broadway unto perpetuity—into a multi-faceted circular narrative that depicts worlds within worlds while remaining within a tight, ordered frame. It’s almost Waiting For Guffman crossed with Pulp Fiction.
5 – John Hodgman, Vacationland
Having found Hodgman’s previous books of deliberately fake “facts” much easier to admire than love, it was delightful to discover what talent he has for memoir, not to mention a knack for detailing the peculiarities of Western Massachusetts and coastal Maine, particularly in relation to his own encroaching middle age.
4 – Michael Ausiello, Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies
Longtime TV industry journalist Ausiello’s account of losing his husband to cancer is wrenching, for sure—and also remarkably candid in how it depicts the ins and outs of a loving, long-term relationship. It’s also self-deprecating and often funny as hell, without at all obscuring the real hell life occasionally throws at you.
3 – Nathan Hill, The Nix
This epic, John Irving-esque debut novel surfaced on a lot of best-of lists in 2016; unlike a few other doorstoppers I’ve picked up recently, it earns all of its pages. At its center are a struggling author/professor and the radical activist mother who walked out on his family two decades earlier. From there, narrative threads effortlessly expand into a tapestry that feels both inclusive and singular.
2 – Robert Forster, Grant and I
Forster’s memoir is simply an account of The Go-Betweens, the seminal Australian cult band he formed in the late ’70s with friend Grant McLennan up until the latter’s death at age 48 in 2006. And yet, The Go-Betweens were like no other band, and this book, brimming with complex emotions and eloquent, vibrant prose, is far from your average rock and roll memoir.
1 – Rob Sheffield, Dreaming The Beatles
Music journalist Sheffield put out his own great debut memoir about losing a spouse to an early death a decade ago—so good, in fact, that everything else he’s written since pales in comparison, until now. The world didn’t really need another book about The Beatles (Sheffield recognizes as much), but it did need this compulsively readable rethink of an outfit too often lazily taken for granted. By exploring how much the band remains part of the collective unconscious fifty years after their heyday, Sheffield conveys, with his usual warm, clever wit, how such totems of pop culture endure, even as the culture itself shifts and evolves.
My complete 2017 Booklist, with titles in chronological order of when I finished reading them (starred entries are books I’ve re-read):
1 – Peter Heller, The Painter
2 – Grace Jones and Paul Morley, I’ll Never Write My Memoirs
3 – Jonathan Ames, The Extra Man
4 – David Nicholls, Us
5 – John Irving, Avenue of Mysteries
6 – Michael Chabon, Moonglow
7 – Kliph Nesteroff, The Comedians
8 – Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
9 – Chris Smith, The Daily Show: The Book
10 – Stanley Elkin, The Dick Gibson Show*
11 – David Bianculli, The Platinum Age of Television
12 – Caitlin Moran, Moranifesto
13 – George Saunders, Lincoln In The Bardo
14 – Jon Savage, 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded
15 – Don Breithaupt, Aja (33 1/3 series)
16 – Mark Harris, Pictures At A Revolution*
17 – Francine Prose, Mister Monkey
18 – Rob Sheffield, Dreaming The Beatles
19 – Sean L. Maloney, Modern Lovers (33 1/3 series)
20 – Jason Zinoman, Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night
21 – Lauren Graham, Talking As Fast As I Can
22 – John Semley, This is a Book About The Kids In The Hall
23 – David Sedaris, Theft By Finding: Diaries 1977-2002
24 – Karl Ove Knausgard, My Struggle, Book Four
25 – Geoff Dyer, Zona*
26 – Nathan Hill, The Nix
27 – Jeffrey Tambor, Are You Anybody?
28 – David Rakoff, Fraud*
29 – Jonathan Bernstein and Lori Majewski, Mad World
30 – Jeremiah Moss, Vanishing New York
31 – Samantha Irby, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life
32 – Derek Jarman, Smiling In Slow Motion
33 – Robert Forster, Grant and I
34 – Michael Ausiello, Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies
35 – Norman Lear, Even This I Get To Remember
36 – Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions*
37 – Alice Munro, Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995-2014
38 – Curtis Sittenfeld, Eligible
39 – Robert Hofler, Party Animals*
40 – John Hodgman, Vacationland
41 – Amy Schumer, The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo
42 – Judd Apatow, Sick In The Head
43 – Peter Heller, Celine
44 – David Yaffe, Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell
45 – Gore Vidal, Lincoln
46 – Jenny Lawson, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened
47 – Zadie Smith, Swing Time